In the aftermath of the massacre at Virginia Tech this week, there’s inevitably a lot of debate about gun laws (both for and against) on the web and elsewhere. Some specious stuff and some really very odd op-ed stuff…like this on the Wall Street Journal.
What strikes me is how willingly English language commentators are accepting the “mad loner” label on the perpetrator. Just as Richard Nisbett reported in a previous case of an asian student massacre.
The BBC and the WSJ alike have revelled in the stories of mental health problems, of antisocial traits and behaviour and so on. All of which fits neatly into our assumptions about ‘evil’.
“There are evil and psychotic people in this world willing to do great harm to others if they aren’t stopped. The dilemma in a free society is how to stop them.
Cho Seung-Hui seems to fit the profile of a social misfit who snapped. Like many other mass killers, the 23-year-old is being described by acquaintances as a “loner,” given to bursts of hostility and other antisocial behavior. We will learn more in the coming days, but our guess is that those who knew him will conclude that they saw the warning signs.
The calculation of his murder spree also suggests some deeper evil at work–if we can use that word in liberal company. Cho used chain locks to bar students from escaping, lined some up against a wall, and emptied his clips with brutal resolve. “There wasn’t a shooting victim that didn’t have less than three bullet wounds in them,” one of the doctors on the scene told CNN. This was a malevolent soul.”
But in Nisbett’s version, the chinese language papers of the day saw things differently: they exercised themselves on what had gone wrong with their community that an individual should end up behaving like this – not, you understand, on what the WSJ might call “soft liberalism”, but because they see us all as connected to each other, “Interdependent” as Ghandi put it.
Has anyone picked up a similar line of reporting in this sad case?
As ever, it all depends how you see things: if we’re interdependent in one aspect of our lives, why not in the others – the less pleasant bits?